In my last blog, I mentioned how I didn’t have the same connections to cricket that others have. Kolkata 2001 does not remind me of moving to America, for instance.
Well, this is my attempt at fixing that, without causing too many ripples in the space-time continuum.
Sometime after the India vs Australia series, most cricket fans, be they casual or serious, Indian or otherwise, fully expect Sachin Tendulkar to retire from Test cricket.
24 years, 196 Tests, 15,746 runs, 51 centuries, and God only knows how many balls faced.
Sachin made his Test debut on November 15th, 1989, as a 16 year old. It was against Pakistan in Karachi. He scored 15 off of 28 balls before being bowled by Waqar Younis.
Six weeks before he did so, on a sunny Autumn morning in Minneapolis, minutes after finishing the Twin Cities Marathon, my dad died of a massive heart attack. He was 40 years old.
I was 13.
I loved my dad. He was my best friend. To say it was a massive blow would be a profound understatement.
This is the story of Sachin, me, and my dad.
Those first few weeks are a blur. I remember making bargains, I remember not crying very much, and I remember a very general sense of holy shit everything is changing.
As Sachin prepared for his Test debut, we had a funeral in Minneapolis, and another one in Cincinnati a few days later. None of it was easy for any of us.
Halloween was hard, Thanksgiving was harder, and it’s almost as if Christmas didn’t even exist that year, because I remember nothing about it.
The following summer, Sachin hit his maiden Test century. 119 not out against England at Old Trafford, helping his country save the match.
That summer we drove to Chicago to spend time with my Uncle, and then later in the summer, probably around the time Sachin was walking to the crease in Manchester, we drove to Cincinnati to spend time with my dad’s extended family.
Life was for the most part getting back to normal. When you are young however you don’t understand how complicated grief is. It’s a not a straight road through a dark tunnel; it’s a dimly lit maze of caverns that you never truly emerge from, no matter how you try, no matter how many years pass.
Michael Ian Black did a piece for This American Life a few years back about the death of his father that summed everything up for me:
“Rather than feeling the loss of my father subside over the years, I feel it more acutely as time goes on. I want a dad. I want my dad. I still feel that way, 28 years later. Meanwhile, I hurdle through life like a running back, my arm forever outstretched to keep people from getting too close.”
That’s it, that’s all of it. But when you are 14 going on 15 and alive and healthy, you don’t see it that way. You see grief as a disease and death as something that you get over, and move on from.
And as Sachin was scoring freely against England, that’s what I was thinking, my head pressed against the glass of the passenger window in my mom’s station wagon as we rumbled back home through midwestern summer fields: everything was going to be okay, we were going to move on, it was going to be fine.
I had no idea what was I getting myself into.
And I would bet that Sachin really didn’t either.
Our journeys had just begun. His would take him to the absolute height of sporting success; mine to the depths of the aforementioned dimly lit maze.
On the first of February, 1992, Sachin hit a sublime 114 in Perth against a venerable Aussie attack. He was coming into his own. He was becoming not just a great batsman, but an icon.
That February I would turn 16, which in the United States means the license to drive, which in turn of course means freedom. I remember that late spring for a certain group of friends that I have lost touch with, and high school hockey tournaments, and again: moving on. It’s not as if I was forgetting my dad, it was more (way more, in fact) that I simply was not ready to even start mourning.
Oh sure, I was sad; I wore black sweaters and listened to The Smiths but so did a million other people. I was high school sad. I was not mourning.
October, 1996. Seven years on.
Sachin is made India’s captain. He leads them to victory in a one-off match against Australia in Delhi, and then a series win over South Africa.
I was living in a tiny studio apartment in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood of Minneapolis, and I was attending classes at the University of Minnesota. That fall two of my best friends in the world transferred back to the U and I think I was finally finding my feet, socially. I also was still going to my classes at that point, and studying, and turning in my papers on time.
All of that would change soon enough.
But I also was beginning to understand that in a lot of ways, my mind was still suck in October of 1989. I was immature. I was relationship illiterate. I was spending entirely too much time alone. I pushed people away that would have been great for me, and I smothered those that were terrible to me. In a lot of ways, looking back, things were really starting to fall apart.
Sachin was only 24. He was India’s captain. He had 10 Test tons. He was a millionaire. He was married.
And while he ascended, I circled the drain, despite all that I had going for me, socially and academically.
Ahmedabad. October the 29th. 1999. Sachin’s first double century. A 217 against New Zealand.
The very next day, I would meet my future wife.
I was living at the time in an even smaller studio apartment in the West Bank neighborhood of Minneapolis after a failed experiment in a house with roommates and several failed relationships. I was still enrolled at the U, though it was more ceremonial than anything. I was yet again spending an extraordinary amount of time alone, and I was painfully aware that I really needed to deal with my dad. I needed to finally mourn.
I would watch Field of Dreams just to cry, I would think about him constantly, I would talk to him as I walked between classes. I missed him so much. I thought if he was around, things would be better. I would have a center of gravity, and all of the things that were spiraling out of control would not even exist.
When I met my wife, though, the day after Sachin raised his bat to the adoring fans on the terraces of the Sardar Patel Stadium, I knew I had found a kindred spirit, as she had lost her mother at a very young age. I knew right then and there that everything was going to be okay. Not wine and roses all day, every day, of course, but when it came to my inability to properly mourn because of the walls and layers I had spent years building, the hard times were ending.
And I was right. About two months later, for the first time ever, I cried about my dad. I mean really cried. My wife-to-be, like the most patient angel on earth, held me in her arms while I cried for what felt like hours. It was the most intimate I had ever been with another person, and I mean that sincerely.
On the 31st of March, 2001, Sachin surpassed 10,000 ODI runs. A phenomenal achievement.
India was entering a period of tremendous growth. They were breaking out of their shell and were getting a seat at the international table. The “aughts” would be the Decade of India, and Sachin with his 10,000 ODI runs and his 25 Test centuries and his 30 ODI centuries would be their talisman.
Two weeks after ODI run number 10,000, my dad’s father passed away.
We drove down for the funeral. I could feel the links to a time when my dad was alive slowly slipping away.
A week later, my dad’s mother died of a broken heart. Broken once when my dad died, broken again when her husband died.
The next summer my uncles sold the house my dad had grown up in; the new owners tore it down and built a new one.
Having moved around so much, my grandparent’s house in Cincinnati that they had built after my grandfather returned from World War Two, the house that they had raised four children in, was the closest thing I would ever have to an ancestral home. And it was gone.
And with it, so much of what linked me to my dad.
In Sachin’s 99th Test appearance, on August the 23rd, 2002, he surpassed the great Don Bradman’s record of 29 Test centuries with a 193 against England at Headingley.
Three weeks earlier, in a once-in-a-generation thunderstorm, my wife and I were married.
We had a picture of my dad on display in the reception room.
He was never far from my thoughts.
We paid for the wedding with the inheritance we received from my grandparents; they had written my brother, sister, and me into their will after my dad had died.
On March 16th, 2005, Sachin scored his 10,000th Test run. He was 31 years old. I was 29, going on 30, and my clock was ticking.
I still missed my dad. I missed him more than anything. But the loss of him at such a young age was a constant reminder that I could very well die young, too. I was going to turn 30. He had died at 40. I had ten years. 3,500 days. These thoughts would rule my brain then and now. Sachin had 10,000 Test runs, I had an expiration date.
Then again, so did he.
After what surely must have felt like the longest 14 months of his entire life, on March 16th, 2012, Sachin scored his 100th international century.
It was the end of a very difficult time for the player, and the sense of relief he must have felt we will never be able to fully understand. It was a pure moment, the kind we only ever get in sports:
It was the culmination of a lifetime of effort from a very special player. And the TV announcer was right: we will never seen anything like it ever again.
As I watched this, my life was once again on the rocks, and I once again kept thinking to myself: if only my dad had lived, everything would be different, better. I still struggled with missing him, I still talked to him on long bike rides, wishing he was there. Despite my decades of effort at getting over him, I was still very much in mourning; I would never get my culmination, my pure moment.
Sachin was aging, he had reached pinnacles in cricket that no one ever will see again, and I was still stuck in October of 1989. My grief refused to age, refused to ebb; simply refused.
And, finally, despite the fact that there is one last chapter he has yet to write, on December 23rd, 2012, Sachin retired from one day cricket. He left us all wondering, of course, why just retire from one format, but in metaphor, and in the context of this post, it works.
I will never fully forget my dad, I will never fully be over him. But certain facets of my grief have recently retired. I can tell people I meet that my dad died when they ask what he does for a living. I can watch films where sons bury their fathers without completely losing it. I can let people in. I can foresee a future past the age of 40.
But yet, despite that, the pain still lingers, and it will continue to linger. Long after Sachin retires from Tests, I will still mourn my dad. The wound opened in 1989 will never fully close.
It was interesting allowing myself to plot my grief along Sachin’s career timeline. The day is coming however when he will will have to fully retire and his own wound will open up and his life will have the giant hole in it.
It’s almost as if our two timelines were reversed. In the fall of 1989, my world ended while his was just opening up before him.
In a few weeks, his world will end, all that he knows will go away, just as my wounds are finally starting to heal.
Here’s to you, Sachin. A remarkable career that spanned an entire grief cycle for me.
And here’s to you, dad. I still miss you so much.